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Recently I read yet another lament of evangelicalism's "consumerist" approach to spiritual matters. Such critiques usually say that evangelicals encourage people to shop around to find the kind of church that meets their spiritual "needs." This needs-centered understanding of the Christian life has fostered a widespread breakdown of denominational and congregational loyalty, critics say. Faithfulness to a specific theological or ecclesiastical tradition has been replaced by "church shopping."

I must confess that I am more vulnerable than most in light of this charge. I am presently co-chairing, on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the officially sponsored dialogue between representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and four denominations in the Reformed tradition. In a sense, I am the most ecumenical member of the dialogue, having belonged at one time in my life to three of the four sponsoring Reformed denominations: I was raised in a parsonage of the Reformed Church in America, then belonged for 17 years—during my time on the Calvin College faculty—to the Christian Reformed Church, and am now a member of a PC(USA) congregation. Furthermore, my wife and I often attend services in a local Episcopal parish. So when I hear people refer disparagingly to "church shoppers," I feel that I need to defend my own shopping.

I have never thought of myself as "separating" or "seceding" from anything. If someone wanted to characterize my moves as being guided by spiritual tastes, I would have to admit to the appropriateness of that depiction. To the degree, then, that there is anything to this charge of consumerism, I would guess that I am the sort of Christian who participates with a fairly clear conscience in a part ...

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In the Magazine

January 2008

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